•pirates & indians
Text written by Albert Kilchesty
Chiefs Brand (private collection)
With the exception of Jim Thorpe all Native American players at the turn of the 20th century were called “Chief.” Two of these men are pictured here: John “Chief” Meyers (L), outstanding catcher for the New York Giants (1909‒1917) and Hall of Famer Albert “Chief” Bender (R), mound ace for the Philadelphia Athletics (1903‒1914). The two met as opponents in the 1911 and 1913 World Series, each won by Bender’s Athletics. At the same time these players were active, franchises in Cleveland and Boston changed their team names to Indians and Braves, respectively. In one of history’s great ironies, the same people who were hunted to near-extermination, dispossessed of their lands and stripped of their freedom, were then callously exploited as symbols of the indomitable American spirit.
Cleveland Indians Brand
Louis Sockalexis (1871‒1913) is considered to be the first person of Native American ancestry to play major league baseball. A member of the Penobscot Nation, he debuted with the Cleveland Spiders of the old National League in 1897 and remained with the team until early 1899. (The Spiders of ’99 compiled the worst record in history, notching a mere 20 wins against an appalling 134 losses.) Fanning out from the face of Sockalexis are several logos used by the Cleveland franchise, re-christened the Indians in 1915 and now in the American League, from 1928 through 2014. The team dispensed with the cartoonish “Chief Wahoo” character (foreground) last season, and now uses a simple block capital “C” as its logo.
Pirate Hats Brand
No pirate worth his swashbuckling salt would be caught dead without a hat like those seen in the various logos of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Bucs have never been shy about donning creative headwear. During the 1970s, the Pirates wore a throwback pillbox cap stitched with stars that represented stellar on-field feats. Submarining relief ace Kent Tekulve models one at lower right. The other styles on display were introduced to prevent beanballs or errant pitches from smashing into a player’s head. The earliest example here is the pneumatic head protector (lower left), an item marketed by the A.J. Reach Company in 1905. Above that a Pittsburgh player shows off an early helmet design, derisively called “miner’s caps” by players. At top right Dave Parker, not a deranged killer from a slasher film, wears a contemporary ear-flap design with a special face guard to protect the slugger’s tender cheekbones from re-injury. During Branch Rickey’s tenure with the Pirates in the 1950s, the team became the first to make batting helmets mandatory for all players. Major League Baseball would shortly follow suit.
Pittsburgh Indians Brand
As the “incorrect” Cleveland Indians logo at top right indicates, these two pitchers are not Native-American Indians but natives of India. The country where cricket is king. Southpaw Rinku Singh and his right-handed complement Dinesh Patel beat out more than 37,000 other contestants on the Indian reality TV show, Million Dollar Arm. Amazingly, neither had ever thrown a baseball before. In addition to cash prizes, the two were flown to the Unites States where they received instruction from pitching coach Tom House, a former relief pitcher known for his unorthodox teaching methods. After trying out before scouts from several teams, the two were signed to professional contracts by the Pittsburgh Pirates. They are the first players from India ever to appear in pro ball. Patel proved ineffective in the low minors and returned to India in 2010. Singh pitched well, however, and was promoted to a higher classification. Injuries caused him to miss the entire seasons of 2013 through 2015, but they Pirates believed in his future and re-signed him anyway. The two are the subjects of the 2014 film, Million Dollar Arm.